2019 Audi R8 review: Track test

First international drive

The new 2019 Audi R8 V10 gains a power boost and a new aggressive visage, yet remains the 'everyday' supercar.

“Don’t run out of talent.”

That’s the tip in our drivers’ briefing from Frank Stippler, Nurburgring 24 Hour winner and Audi factory driver.

I’m sharply reminded of those words of wisdom as I approach a particularly challenging 90-degree left-hand corner a little too hot.

‘Don’t run out of talent’ bounces around inside my head as I stomp on the brakes, my eyes as big as a harvest moon, waiting for the rear end of the car to squirm as physics looks to do its science and spin the back end to the front. Except it doesn’t.

Easing off the brakes, I tip into the left-hander with what feels, to my mind at least, like a touch too much speed. My options are limited though. I can either try and scrub off more speed and – probably – crash through a series of cones that delineate this section of the Circuit Ascari in the south of Spain; or I can try to make the corner.

I needn’t have worried, the Audi R8 simply accepting my somewhat clumsy choreography of feet and hands and easily gobbling up what mere milliseconds earlier looked, not exactly foolish, but certainly wishful.

And that’s the thing about the Audi R8 – it’s always been the everyday supercar, with refined road manners married to phenomenal performance. My colleague Alborz once said a supercar should try to kill, or at least scare, you. My rejoinder is simply, why? Why would you want a car that openly and maniacally defies your attempts to drive it, when you can have something that responds just as eagerly to your inputs but instead of trying to kill you, rewards you with an entire theatrical production where you are the star and the car a mere prop.

That’s what the R8 does. It makes you feel like the star of your own show, whereas a Lamborghini or a Ferrari demands the spotlight.

So how does Audi make the R8 better? We’re here in the south of Spain to find out, at the international launch of the 2019 Audi R8. Best of all, there will be no pesky road loops with their annoying speed limits and consideration for other road users. Instead, this launch will be held in its entirety on the race track where the new, more powerful R8 won’t try to kill me.

Let’s be clear. The Audi R8, with its 5.2-litre naturally-aspirated V10, is a bit of an anachronism in today’s automotive climate, where cylinders are shed like sunburnt skin and displacement disappears faster than a glass of beer on a hot summer’s day.

Smaller is better in today’s market, yet Audi – and for what’s it worth, Lamborghini with its similarly-platformed Huracan – continues to offer a big V10-shaped two-fingered salute to the saints of downsizing. And we’re here to celebrate.

It starts with its styling. The new 2019 Audi R8 is easily the most aggressive and muscular looking road-going R8 yet. Audi’s trademark hexagonal singleframe grille has gained some width and lost some height, making it broader and flatter, while the chrome surround is gone completely. In fact, there’s very little chrome anywhere on the new R8 – black is the new chrome in Audi’s world of 2019.

Above the grille, three subtle, yet distinct, horizontal slits provide a subtle nod to the original Audi Sport quattro. Look for this nod on other Audi models in the future (such as the all-new A1). The front splitter is wider too, and it has sprouted winglets at each side. Framing that more aggressive face are standard LED headlights.

There’s more aggression at the rear, a new larger diffuser and a single air inlet grille which now spans the entire width of the car. Poking out from the diffuser are two monstrously-large and, worth noting, very real, oval-shaped exhaust pipes. The detail inside those pipes is breathtaking, with sharp vanes reminiscent of the blades of a jet engine. A large carbon-fibre rear wing on the R8 V10 performance, completes the aggressive stance (the R8 V10 quattro features an integrated spoiler that deploys at 120km/h).

It’s worth noting at this point there are just four models in the R8 range: the standard Audi R8 V10 quattro, the R8 V10 performance quattro (which replaces the V10 plus), and those same designations in Spyder form.

We won’t see the new R8 on our roads until late next year, and Audi Australia is yet to confirm pricing and specification. However, a spokesperson for the local arm said it won’t differ too much from the current R8 on sale in Australia. That places the ‘regular’ V10 quattro at around $365,000 while the V10 performance quattro will probably land somewhere north of $400,000. The drop-top models command a premium above that.

On test we have exclusively the R8 V10 performance quattro (yes, lowercase ‘p’ and ‘q’) which unleashes a decent 456kW of power and 580Nm of torque. Those numbers are up on its predecessor, the V10 plus, by 7kW and 20Nm respectively, and come courtesy of some tweaks to the valve train which now boasts titanium amongst its materials. If that all seems a bit too much, the R8 V10 quattro’s slightly tamer 419kW and 560Nm might be more to your liking.

Power is transmitted to all four wheels via Audi’s seven-speed S tronic transmission and when everything works in concert, the R8 V10 performance can zip to 100km/h from standstill in just 3.1 seconds, and from 0-200km/h in a slightly silly 9.8 seconds. Top speed? Who cares, but for those interested, it’s 331km/h. Nerd fact: each of those 10 pistons travels at a rate of 26.9 metres per second, or 1614 metres per minute, or if you prefer, 96,840 metres per hour.

That last figure just about matches my heart rate as I wait at the end of pitlane waiting for the green flag to let me loose on the Circuit Ascari. Behind my ears, that glorious V10 (and make no mistake, it is glorious) is emitting a throaty burble waiting to unleash its potential.

There’s an instant surge of speed the moment you step hard on the right pedal. That 3.1-second claim approaches pretty bloody quickly as you exit pitlane and enter the race track proper and the first corner, an open and downhill left-hander looms ever larger and very quickly. It’s an open exit though, so you can jump on the throttle even as you clip the apex and the R8 surges forward with an intensity that leaves you short of breath.

I won’t describe a whole lap, with its mix of sweeping curves, tight corners, long straights and, a banked section that begs to be driven flat-out but instead requires circumspection because the wall at the top of the banking is very real and very hard. It should have ‘Don’t run out of talent’ painted on it. In large letters.

Instead, I’ll tell you about how good the Audi R8 is at making a pretty average driver (i.e. me), look pretty damn handy.

Context. I drove two R8s, one with ‘dynamic steering’ and one without. More context. All R8s had their drive modes set to ‘Performance’ (yes, upper case ‘P’) which is basically a track-only setting with a detuned ESC function should you overcook it. That means it will save your arse mildly, but if you completely f*** it up, you’re on your own, sunshine.

But that’s the thing about the R8. It is immensely driveable, even for a relative numpty like me. It’s a car to be enjoyed, a car that is more capable than you will ever be. It’s entirely predictable in the way it behaves, displaying neither understeer nor oversteer. Instead it just hunkers down and does exactly what you ask of it.

Mash the throttle to the floor and the R8 just surges forward without any hint of the rear wheels spinning or the backend wanting to step out of line.

Ask everything of the ceramic brakes, and she just pulls up quickly and cleanly every single time. Throw her through a series of corners with multiple changes of direction, and the R8 stays planted and goes exactly where you want it to.

The steering is possibly a little light. But it is oh so precise. I drove two versions of the R8 V10 performance quattro, one with standard electromechanical steering and one with a dynamic system. That system changes the steering ratio depending on speed and is said to offer more precision and response. And it does. It is beautifully precise, with razor sharp responses to your inputs. It is almost too precise, if there is such a thing. And it feels a little light.

Make mine the regular electromechanical rack-and-pinion setup then, with a touch more weight and a whole lot more playfulness. You can feel what the wheels are doing through the tiller, giving you a greater connection to the road.

Greater connection to the drivetrain is found by flicking the gear selector into manual mode. I tried letting the R8 chart its own destiny via its seven-speed S tronic transmission, but even in the insanely hyper Performance mode, I found it a little too eager to swap cogs. Using the steering wheel-mounted paddle-shifters made for a much more engaging and precise drive experience, the V10 happily running out to red line with a howl and growl before eliciting an oh-so-intoxicating bang on upshifts and a scream and a wail on downshifts. Proper supercar-like then.

My time behind the wheel is all too short, and it’s somewhat reluctantly I climb out of the R8 and hand over to the next person.

The howl of that glorious V10 is still ringing in my ears as I try to gather my thoughts. And the main thought is this... the R8 might not be an outrageous supercar in the way a Lamborghini or Ferrari is. Instead it takes a more subtle and everyday approach to that fine art. Sure, the new design is a whole lot edgier than previously, but the R8 remains what is essentially, an everyday supercar.

Drive it to the shops or to work, no problems, the R8 remains as easy to drive sedately as, say, an A1. But unleash the hell lurking under your right foot, and she responds with a purpose that is as easy to harness as it is breathtaking.

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